Why Instagram Stories took users away from Snapchat

A friend asked me this question earlier today, “why is Instagram Stories so successful in taking people away from Snapchat” and I thought it might be interesting to enumerate my answer in long form.

Instagram Stories, launched in 2016 quickly overtook Snapchat Stories usage in early 2017. Current numbers place Snapchat at around 400M DAU compared to Snapchat’s 191M. (Side note: WhatsApp has their Signal, their Stories equivalent, at 450M DAU)

A lot of articles talk about differentiating features between the two platforms, especially around the velocity of new features and features catering to brands and influencers. This is probably a factor, but unlikely the defining factor.

I think one of the key reasons is that most people (outside the core Snapchat 16-25 crowd) have stronger networks on Instagram than they do on Snapchat, so when equivalent functionality showed up, it put a significant damper on this set of people discovering and starting to use Snapchat in parallel. It is also helped by Stories feeling like a natural extension to core Instagram; if regular Instagram is for feel-good photos stored for posterity, Stories is the same but for ad-hoc, unedited situations.

We know that most people use multiple communication apps, and that networks often stay within the app that it was founded upon. We can assume that Stories is a superior product, but since Instagram (and Facebook) managed to make such a perfect copy such that it rendered Snapchat Stories with no strong differentiating factor other than the network – and Instagram had a superior network – it was able to satisfy users currently on Instagram that have yet to commit to Snapchat. Building a network is hard, and porting a desirable feature from an emerging one to an existing network is a shrewd move.

From the users perspective, it is likely that for many, Stories on Instagram will on day one have broader distribution than they do on Snapchat where the same users will have to rebuild their list. Convincing lots of people to adopt a new network is non-trivial effort. Even for users who have started to use Snapchat, they will likely deduplicate their efforts (also since Stories demand to be captured real-time in app) and reduce their use from two platforms to one, especially when these networks massively overlap. I think the converse may also hold true, where users with broader networks will stay put and not jump ship.

However, considering that core Instagram product serves a different need, I wonder if over time the users will siphon over. I think it’s unlikely as long as Snapchat’s core product is differentiated, but the fate of Storeis may end up being decided by viewership and that may be in Instagram’s favor over the long run all things considered.